Thoughts on Life, Love, Politics, Hypocrisy and Coming Out in Mid-Life
Saturday, November 06, 2021
School Board Members Face Rising Threats of Violence
Like many school board races this year, the one in May in Corvallis, a left-leaning college town in the northwest corner of the state, was especially contentious, swirling around concerns not only about the coronavirus pandemic but also the teaching of what Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh called the “dark history” of America’s struggle with race. Even months later, Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh, the chairman of the school board, is still taking precautions. He regularly speaks to the police and scans his driveway in the morning before walking to his car. He often mixes up his daily route to work. . . . .“I love serving on the school board,” he said. “But I don’t want to die for it.”
Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh is not alone. Since the spring, a steady tide of school board members across the country have nervously come forward with accounts of threats they have received from enraged local parents. At first, the grievances mainly centered on concerns about the way their children were being taught about race and racism. Now, parents are more often infuriated by Covid-19 restrictions like mask mandates in classrooms.
It is an echo of what happened when those faithful to the Tea Party stormed Obamacare town halls across the country more than a decade ago. In recent months, there have been Nazi salutes at school board meetings and emails threatening rape. Obscenities have been hurled — or burned into people’s lawns with weed spray.
While there has not been serious violence yet, there have been a handful of arrests for charges such as assault and disorderly conduct. The National School Boards Association has likened some of these incidents to domestic terrorism, though the group eventually walked back that claim after it triggered a backlash from its state member organizations.
Sitting at the intersection of parenting and policy, local school boards have always been a place where passions run high and politics get personal.
Some protesters who have caused a stir at school board meetings in recent months have defended themselves by saying that they were merely exercising their First Amendment rights and that schools are better when parents are involved, arguments echoed by Republicans in Congress and in statehouse races.
Parents who have been vocal in their opposition to the Corvallis school board said they were unaware of any threats against Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh or other board members. They said it would be counterproductive to their cause to threaten violence because it would allow school officials to paint dissenting parents as hateful bigots.
While acknowledging that parents have a right to be heard, Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh and other school board members have argued that the recent rash of menacing disruptions is different from the occasionally heated conversations that have long marked the relationship between school board officials seeking to set rules and people looking out for their children.
“What’s happening now, and what has been happening,” Mr. Al-Abdrabbuh said, “is much more serious than simply listening to excited parents who want what’s best for their kids.”
The federal government apparently agrees. In early October, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland issued a memo announcing that the Justice Department would respond to what he called “a disturbing spike of harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against school board members and administrators. In the memo, Mr. Garland ordered the F.B.I. and federal prosecutors to work with local law enforcement officers to monitor threats against people working in the nation’s 14,000 public school districts.
The memo suggested that federal officials saw the issue as the latest example of a troubling trend: ordinary people using threats of violence to express their politics. This summer, seeking to counter a similar problem, the Justice Department established a task force to curb attacks against election workers.
But far from calming the situation, the school board initiative by the Justice Department was seized upon by Republican officials as a political issue.
Republican attorneys general in 17 states published a memo of their own, describing the proposal to monitor threats against school officials as a threat itself. . . . . Republicans in both houses of Congress have also attacked Mr. Garland’s plans, accusing him of treating parents like terrorists, though his memo mentioned neither terrorism nor parents.
Yet those who have been the targets of harassment and vandalism have applauded the move by the Justice Department. Jennifer Jenkins, a school board official in Brevard County, Fla., said she had suffered months of threats, beginning last year when she unseated an incumbent member of her school board.
At first, Ms. Jenkins said, parents angered by the district’s transgender bathroom policy began to appear at board meetings, waving Trump flags and calling members “pedophiles.” But that soon escalated, she said, to angry groups of people shouting on the street outside her home.
Then in July, after the district put in place a mask mandate for students, a Republican state lawmaker posted Ms. Jenkins’s cellphone number on his Facebook page, and her voice mail filled with hateful messages. Not long after, she said, someone burned the letters “FU” into her lawn with weed killer and chopped down the bushes in front of her house.
In California, school board members have received so many threats that Vernon M. Billy, the executive director of the state School Boards Association, wrote a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for help. Near Sacramento, he wrote, one entire school board had to flee its chamber after protesters accosted the members.
Republicans are using extremist parents and misleading others into acting as the equivalent of brown shirts to silence views not consistent with the GOP's increasingly Christofascist and white supremacist driven dogma. Be very afraid for the future if this effort isn't stopped.
Friday, November 05, 2021
White Racial Anxiety Strikes Again
Of course, there are structural, historical patterns that still hold true in states like Virginia, where voters tend to punish whichever party controls the White House. But what can’t be denied is the degree to which Youngkin successfully activated and unleashed white racial anxiety, positioning it in its most potent form: as the protection of the vulnerable, innocent and helpless. In this case, the white victims in supposed distress were children.
Youngkin homed in on critical race theory, even though critical race theory, as Youngkin imagines it, isn’t being taught in his state’s schools. But that didn’t matter.
There are people who want to believe the fabrication because it justifies their fears about displacement, powerlessness and vulnerability.
In fact, the frenzy around critical race theory is just the latest in a long line of manufactured outrages meant to tap into this same fear, and the strategy has proved depressingly effective.
There was the fear of “race-mixing” among children — including the notion that Black boys might begin dating white girls following the desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. (By the way, this was a variation on the ancient and dusty fear peddled during Reconstruction that not only were Black men incapable of governing, but their rapacious nature also put white women at risk of rape and devilment.)
There was the fear of a collapse of the Southern way of life and society following the successes of the civil rights movement. That gave rise to the Republicans’ “Southern strategy.”
Ronald Reagan employed the myth of the welfare queen to anger white voters.
As The New Republic put it, “the welfare queen stood in for the idea that Black people were too lazy to work, instead relying on public benefits to get by, paid for by the rest of us upstanding citizens.”
This, even though, as the Economic Policy Institute pointed out, “Compared with other women in the United States, Black women have always had the highest levels of labor market participation regardless of age, marital status, or presence of children at home.” In fact, working-class white people have benefited most from assistance from the government.
George H.W. Bush ginned up fears of white women being raped by Black former prisoners with his 1988 Willie Horton ad, hammering home a tough-on-crime message.
Sarah Palin tried her best to other Barack Obama and make white people afraid of him, accusing the Illinois senator of “palling around with terrorists.” At the same time, birthers were questioning if Obama was born in the United States and wondering whether he was Christian or Muslim.
Then came Donald Trump, the chief birther, who ratcheted up this fear appeal to obscene levels, positioning Mexicans as rapists and Muslims as people who hate America. He disparaged Black countries, demonized Black athletes and found some “very fine people” among the Nazis in Charlottesville.
So it’s no wonder Youngkin’s critical race theory lie worked. The parasite of white racial anxiety needed a new host, a fresher one.
You could argue that the Democrats made missteps in Virginia. Absolutely. But, to win, Democrats also needed to tamp down white people’s fears, which is like playing Whac-a-Mole.
Some of the very same people who voted against Donald Trump because they were exhausted and embarrassed by him turned eagerly to Youngkin because he represented some of the same ideals, but behind a front of congeniality.
Youngkin delivered fear with a smile.
Of course, if Youngkin lied consistently throughout his campaign, it is a given that he will lie while in office.
Thursday, November 04, 2021
The Culture War Still Works for the GOP
In the Virginia governor’s race, pundits have been calling Tuesday night’s Republican win — depending who you listen to — a referendum on President Joe Biden, a verdict on the Democrats’ performance in Congress or the result of a smart Republican strategy for handling former President Donald Trump.
But it’s just as reasonable to credit what’s been happening right in the middle of Virginia. The state has been stirred by a wave of local unrest, with protests at school board after school board, a very local version of a big national argument stirred up by right-wing media and grassroots groups.
And that suggests the real lesson for Republicans on Tuesday. One of their most powerful political assets is alive and well: the power of cultural issues over policies.
In the broadest sense, “cultural” matters have been challenging and bedeviling Democrats for well over half a century. The backlash to civil rights pulled the South away from the Democratic Party in the mid-’60s; crime, welfare, campus and urban violence eroded white working-class loyalties.
All through this period, Democrats were arguing that the public, by large measures, preferred their actual policies — their approaches to education, health care, taxes. . . . . Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
A six-point program to make schools better and college more affordable will mean very little if voters believe their neighborhoods are unsafe; and while demagogues will eagerly feed such fears, they will motivate voters only if there is an underlying reality to them.
That kind of visceral response to an issue is a perennial “feature” of school board fights. Almost 50 years ago, fights over textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia, led to mass boycotts, shootings and the dynamiting of at least one elementary school. Fights over what books should or should not be in school libraries are more or less constant local arguments. Now, the combustible issue of race in America and how to teach about it has quickly become the Republican Party’s issue of choice. And Democrats face a significant challenge in pushing back.
On the one hand, there are clear and compelling arguments to be made for teaching kids very directly about the nation’s scarred past. Texas children ought to know that the original constitution of the Republic of Texas protected slavery and barred Indians and “Africans” from becoming citizens. New York children ought to learn that suburban developments barred Black people from buying homes.
This is not “critical race theory” — an academic concept not taught in elementary or high schools. It’s just history. . . . . It’s not hard to pump up the fears of conservative or moderate white suburban parents that such a critique amounts to an attack on some basic, and seemingly colorblind, American values.
What makes all this so maddening for Democrats is that there is plenty of evidence that Black voters themselves don't widely share such views, any more than they support the “defund the police” campaigns of last year. Eric Adams, New York City’s next mayor and Jim Clyburn, House Democratic whip, have pushed back strongly against them.
For Democrats, one lesson of Virginia may well be that their candidates in 2022 and 2024 — most definitely including Biden — will need to find ways to position themselves loudly and clearly against these views, every bit as much as the party needs to push back against the tsunami of lies from GOP candidates that will be unleashed about what and how our nation’s children are being taught.
Right now, the mainstream of the national Democratic Party is still overwhelmingly focused on policy, not culture. They’re trying to govern, which is the job they were elected to do. But at some point they’ll need to start campaigning again, and if Democrats believe that the passage of an infrastructure program and a large social spending bill will provide the ammunition to repel a new GOP-launched culture war, they are deluding themselves.
For Republicans, the signal from Virginia is very clear. The party is already marshaling the troops for the next culture war. The next three years may be a time of scorched earth in America’s towns and suburbs. And Democrats, if they want to win, cannot be conscientious objectors.
Minorities, gays, Jews, Muslims et al had best brace themselves for very ugly attacks and endless lies coming from the GOP at all levels.
Wednesday, November 03, 2021
Congressional Democrats Let Biden Down: Virginia and Democracy Paid the Price
Democrats: Wake up! And for those who consider themselves lower-d democrats: This is your wake-up call, too.
Democrats in Congress had months to prove that they could legislate, to demonstrate that a government of the people, by the people and for the people could still function despite the creeping authoritarianism, the daily assaults on truth and the conspiracy-minded paranoia.
They let President Biden down. They let the country down. And on Tuesday night, Terry McAuliffe paid the price.
Virginia voters decided not to return him for a second nonconsecutive term as governor, instead electing Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, who ran a Trump-inspired campaign of disinformation, conspiracy theories and race-baiting. It wasn’t terribly close. Republicans were leading the the lieutenant governor and attorney general races, too, and were within sight of a majority in the House of Delegates.
But if there’s anything positive in this defeat, it’s that Democrats are hearing this alarm with enough time to mend their ways. If they don’t, Tuesday’s loss will be as nothing compared to the shellacking Democrats will receive a year from now.
The Manchins and the Sinemas on the right side of the Democratic caucus and the Jayapals on the left must recognize that their carping over relative trifles has imperiled an agenda they (and their constituents) overwhelmingly support, and increased the likelihood that the people who brought us the Jan. 6 insurrection will be returned to power in next year’s midterms. The Manchins and the Sinemas and the Jayapals, by making the perfect the enemy of the (very) good, have handed an advantage to an illiberal faction that is stoking White nationalism.
This is not to deny other causes of McAuliffe’s defeat. . . . . But clearly Biden was a net drag on McAuliffe. Overall, Virginians disapproved of Biden’s handling of the presidency by a 10-point margin, with nearly half saying they “strongly disapprove” — double the percentage who strongly approved.
Had congressional Democrats moved three months ago to enact Biden’s infrastructure legislation and Build Back Better agenda, the huge stimulus within those bills would already be boosting the economy and creating jobs. McAuliffe could have been boasting about clean-energy jobs, broadband Internet for all, better roads, bridges and ports for Virginians and free prekindergarten for all commonwealth kids — much of it paid for by a crackdown on tax dodging by the ultra-rich.
Youngkin’s victory confirms a depressing reality: Trumpism succeeds as a tactic even in the absence of Trump. Though Youngkin nominally distanced himself from Trump (he didn’t mention Trump often or attend events where Trump spoke on his behalf), he ran a classic MAGA campaign, raising racial fear and animus among White voters by scaring them about crime and the phantom menace of critical race theory. He littered the airwaves with falsehoods . . . .
It worked. Black, Latino and college-educated Virginians overwhelmingly supported McAuliffe, exit polls showed. White men without college degrees overwhelmingly went for Youngkin. So did Virginians who want to preserve monuments to Confederate generals. Among Youngkin supporters, 3 in 10 said they were not confident that their votes would be counted accurately. Among McAuliffe voters, such doubts barely registered.
Much was made before the election of the “enthusiasm gap” facing Democrats. Actually, Democratic turnout was exceptionally high — but it was even higher on the Republican side. Had congressional Democrats given voters a reason to turn out, that could well have made the difference.
Progressive and moderate holdouts failed to deliver, and on Tuesday night we saw the result. Democrats, you are running out of time to save democracy.
In Virginia Gays Were Rudely Reminded Who Their Friends Are
I hope other LGBT Virginians wake up to who their friends are and those who cannot be trusted to protect their rights or their very safety. The coming holiday events will be stressful and awkward at times, but I have no intention of forgiving those who voted to harm me and my community. I see them for what they are: liars and false friends.
Tuesday, November 02, 2021
How Extremist Christian Theology is Driving the GOP Assault on Democracy
Progressive policies and positions are supposed to be rooted in reality and hard evidence. But that's not always the case when it comes to the culture wars that have such an enormous impact on our politics — especially not since the unexpected evangelical embrace of Donald Trump in 2016, culminating in the "pro-life" death cult of anti-vaccine, COVID-denying religious leaders.
If this development perplexed many on the left, it was less surprising to a small group of researchers who have been studying the hardcore anti-democratic theology known as dominionism that lies behind the contemporary Christian right, and its far-reaching influence over the last several decades.
Her [Rachel Tabachnick] presentation sheds important light on at least three things: First of all, the vigilante element of the Texas anti-abortion law SB 8. Second, the larger pattern of disrupting or undermining governance, including the "constitutional sheriffs" movement, the installation of overtly partisan election officials and the red-state revolt against national COVID public health policies. While Donald Trump has exploited that pattern ruthlessly, he did not create it. And third, the seemingly baffling fact that an anti-democratic minority feels entitled to accuse its opponents — including democratically elected officials — of "tyranny."
Some dominionist ideas — such as the biblical penalty of death by stoning — are so extreme they can easily be dismissed as fringe, others have been foundational to the modern religious right, and still more have become increasingly influential in recent years. Those latter two categories are what we need to understand most, say both Tabachnick and Jackson.
This failure to understand the nature of dominionism has hampered activists, not just in the realm of reproductive justice, but across an entire spectrum of political issues, both cultural and economic.
Dominionism is the theocratic idea that regardless of theological view, means, or timetable, Christians are called by God to exercise dominion over every aspect of society by taking control of political and cultural institutions.
Dominionists in the other branch, known as "Christian reconstructionism," . . . . have excelled at strategic organizing and providing blueprints across different right-wing constituencies for almost 50 years. They are the ones Tabachnick focused most of her presentation on, specifically two key figures: Rousas John Rushdoony, the movement's master theologian, and his son-in-law Gary North, a prolific strategist, propagandist and networker who was once a staffer for Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian hero.
Christian reconstructionism, Tabachnick explained, is "about bringing government in all areas of life under biblical law, a continuation of the Mosaic law in the Old Testament, with some exceptions." This dispensation would include, "according to Gary North, public execution of women who have abortions and those who advise them to have an abortion."
In a recent private presentation, Frederick Clarkson asked a rhetorical question: "People have long said that there should be Christian government, but if you had one, what would it look like? What would it do? Rushdoony was the first to create a systematic theology of what Christian governance should be like, based on the Ten Commandments, and all of the judicial applications he could find in the Old Testament — including about 35 capital offenses."
For more than 40 years, its prolific writers have provided the foundations and strategic blueprints for the attacks on liberation theology and the social gospel, as well as many other streams of Christianity which do not share the Reconstructionists' belief in unfettered capitalism as ordained by God and its fierce anti-statism.
The larger religious right's attack on public education, the social safety net and most government functions are largely grounded in the writings, strategies and tactics formulated by reconstructionist writers. Reconstructionism is not the only (and certainly not the first) source of interposition and nullification in this country. However, much of what is currently being taught today about using interposition to undermine the legitimacy of government is sourced in reconstructionism.
There's a long history of right-wing opposition to federal authority, particularly grounded in the 19th-century defense of slavery and continuing in the defense of Jim Crow segregation. In his famous "I Have a Dream" speech, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke specifically of the governor of Alabama "having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification."
[T]he religious right wasn't initially fueled by opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, but by opposition to a lesser-known decision in 1971, Green v. Connally, which threatened the tax-exempt status of racially discriminatory institutions, most famously the evangelical stronghold Bob Jones University.
Anti-abortion activists have long sought not just to bury that past but to stand it on its head, somehow equating Roe v. Wade with the notorious Dred Scott decision of 1857 and claiming the moral heritage of abolitionism.
"This movement believes that rights come from God and not from any government," Tabachnick told Salon. "Therefore, any 'rights' that conflict with their interpretation of God's law are not actually rights. They are 'humanist' or a product of man's laws and not God's laws. This theme of 'human rights' versus inalienable rights from God has been at the center of the Christian Reconstructionist movement since its beginnings." . . . . "This attack on the very concept of 'human rights' can be found throughout today's religious right."
"The goal of reconstructionism is to tear down the existing order and reconstruct a new society based on biblical law," Tabachnick said. "Even if we assume that this vision of a theocratic America will never come to fruition, it's important to recognize the movement's impact on the ideas, strategies and tactics of the larger religious right and its role in sacralizing the actions of other anti-statist fellow travelers.
"As I wrote almost a decade ago, the theocratic libertarianism of Christian reconstructionism has been surprisingly seductive to Tea Partiers and young libertarians — many of whom may not realize what is supposed to happen after the government is stripped of its regulatory powers."
These peope and those in bed with them are a clear and present danger to democracy.
Monday, November 01, 2021
Sunday, October 31, 2021
The Virginia GOP’s Culture Wars
There are real, material issues at hand in Virginia, where I grew up and where I currently live, from transportation and housing costs to climate, economic inequality and, of course, the commonwealth’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The battleground for this election, however, is culture, identity and the specter of the previous president.
McAuliffe and his supporters want Virginians to feel that a vote for Youngkin is a vote for Donald Trump. “I ran against Donald Trump and Terry is running against an acolyte of Donald Trump,” said President Biden while speaking at a rally Tuesday night in Arlington. “We have a choice,” said McAuliffe at the same event. “A path that promotes conspiracies, hate, division, or a path focused on lifting up every single Virginian.”
Youngkin, for his part, wants Virginians to know that a vote for McAuliffe is a vote for “critical race theory.” Not the legal discipline that deals with the distance between formal and actual equality, but the idea, spread by right-wing activists and their wealthy supporters, that public schools are teaching a racist ideology of guilt and anti-white sentiment. Youngkin’s singular message has been that he will keep this “critical race theory” out of Virginia’s schools.
What this means, if the rhetoric of Youngkin’s strongest supporters is any indication, is an assault on any discussion of race and racism in the state’s classrooms. . . . . Try to imagine what this would look like.
Virginia is where African slavery first took root in Britain’s Atlantic empire. It is where, following that development, English settlers developed an ideology of racism to justify their decision to, as the historian Winthrop Jordan put it, “debase the Negro.” It is where, in the middle of the 18th century, a powerful class of planter-intellectuals developed a vision of liberty and freedom tied inextricably to their lives as slave owners, and it is where, a century later, their descendants would fight to build a slave empire in their name.
And all of this is before we get to Reconstruction and Jim Crow and massive resistance to school integration and the many other forces that have shaped Virginia into the present.
Just this week came news of the death of A. Linwood Holton, elected in 1969 as the state’s first Republican governor of the 20th century. Holton integrated Virginia schools and broke the back of the segregationist Byrd machine (named for the domineering Harry F. Byrd), which controlled the state from the 1890s into the 1960s.
To take discussions of race and racism out of the classroom would, in practice, make it impossible to teach Virginia state history beyond dates, bullet points and the vaguest of generalities.
Democracy requires empathy. We have to be able to see ourselves in one another to be able to see one another as political equals. I think history education is one important way to build that empathy. To understand the experiences of a person in a fundamentally different time and place is to practice the skills you need to see your fellow citizens as equal people even when their lives are profoundly different and distant from your own. This is why it’s vital that students learn as much as possible about the many varieties of people who have lived, and died, on this land.
This democratic empathy is, I believe, a powerful force. It can, for example, lead white children in isolated rural Virginia to march and demonstrate in memory of a poor Black man who died at the hands of police in urban Minnesota.
I do not know who will win the Virginia election. It looks, at this point, like a tossup. But I do know that, viewed in the light of empathy and its consequences, the panic against critical race theory looks like a rear-guard action in a battle already lost: a vain attempt to reverse the march of a force that has already done much to undermine hierarchy and the “proper” order of things.
Pray that Democrats prevail on Tuesday and, if blacks fail to turn out, they more than anyone will suffer the consequences.